What can be said about a meeting planner’s selection of a waterfront location, lengthy stretch of beach, over-the-sea sunsets and teambuilding activities such as surfing and standup paddleboarding? If the reaction borders on envy, keep reading for details from the pros who have treated their teams to events that share the same location: paradise. From Hawaii and Southern California to Florida and beyond, the basics can be perfection and the results are almost always positive.
As director of contests and recognitions with HealthMarkets Insurance Agency — a health, Medicare, life and supplemental insurance distribution company — two items steered Kelly Moore, CMP, to Hawaii. With the company headquarters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, she says two main factors led her group to the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa: 1), brand and 2), location.
With respect to brand, Moore explains, “I’ve used the Hyatt brand for several events and feel confident using one of their properties because of how I am treated and the flawless execution of my events. They deliver what they preach.” She gives a special shout-out to sales representative Rhett Ferguson for his attentive professionalism — even after the contract was signed. “He stayed in touch throughout the entire planning phase and met with me daily throughout the event. He was also the last person I saw when I left the hotel at the end of my event.”
Regarding location, the group’s first night underscored its island setting with Hyatt Regency Maui’s luau. Though the hotel has a six-nights-a-week luau for the public, the insurance group’s perfectly timed arrival fell on the off night. “The hotel was fully set up for a luau, so I only had to hire the performers and select the menu. Everything else was done, and did I mention it was oceanfront?”
Perfectly pitched on a three-mile stretch of Kaanapali Beach, the 806-room resort features three tennis courts, a half-acre pool, four restaurants, four bar/lounges, an outdoor dinner theater/luau area and more than 100,000 sf of meeting and convention space. The most recent enhancement is the expansion and update of the Monarchy Ballroom, the transformation of a former garden to The Halona Kai event and social space overlooking the beach (complete with state-of-the-art acoustic and audio-visual systems) and a new Regency Club Lounge.
Daytime events for the insurance group included a daily poolside radio show and a day-of-arrival market of local vendors coordinated by Desilva Meeting Consultants, a DMC that arranged a store-like setup of exclusively made-in-Hawaii items from which attendees could select their own welcome gifts.
The top achievers’ excursion included 100 of HealthMarkets’ top agents and their spouses on five catamarans for a half day of snorkeling. Arranged by a local, family-owned company, Trilogy, at day’s end there was a boat race back to the hotel. “I have a very competitive group, so they loved this,” says Moore.
Of special appeal to this active group were such pastimes as volcano hikes, bike rides, jeep tours, boat trips to Lanai and a helicopter ride, pursuits for which the DMC set up an early sign-up website, making the process effortless.
From experience, Moore has a few tips for planners visiting Hawaii. Use local talent and local products, to not only give your attendees authenticity but also to save money by not having to ship everything from home. She also suggests incorporating a give-back program for the community. Example: Instead of investing in a centerpiece for each morning, the company donated to a different area charity with table signage describing the charity of the day. Inclusions were Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Maui Food Bank, Pūnana Leo o Maui and Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui.
“As a planner in the financial and insurance industry, every dollar counts. We are expected to provide a better experience each year at an amazing destination with the same or a lesser budget,” says Moore of the resort offering discounts and perks to planners booking a minimum of 15 rooms for three or more nights through 2018. “Maui is one of my favorite destinations,” she elaborates.
“This property received higher service marks than all other past properties. That says a lot. My attendees felt well taken care of and that’s what matters the most to me.”
— Kelly Moore
Oahu’s Aulani, a Disney Resort & Spa, prides itself in treating attendees to the Hawaiian culture with a bit of Disney magic. Home to the islands’ only floating stage (perfect for award ceremonies, live performances and product displays), the 21-acre resort offers 21,258 sf of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting and event space at its state-of-the-art conference center, as well as 76,685 sf of additional outdoor space (includes a private beach and secluded lawns).
Montage Laguna Beach and the Annual Key Producers Meeting are the perfect match, states Janice E. Quals (10-year FICP member), divisional assistant vice president of facilities and IT customer support, Great American Insurance Group. “My main objective is to ensure that our guests — most of whom are top executives of brokerage companies — have something different and unique to look forward to,” she says.
Situated in the renowned artists’ colony of Southern California’s Laguna Beach, this 250-room, turn-of-the-century craftsman-style luxury resort is perched on 30 lush acres atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific and a collection of marine tidepools.
Held every year in late February or early March, this three-night incentive includes a host of activities offered to all attendees and their significant others. Choices — many of which are exclusive to an on-the-beach location — include kayaking, beach volleyball, electric bike tours, offsite culinary classes, onsite culinary classes in Studio (the resort’s signature fine-dining restaurant) and surfing lessons, as well as resort marine docents (to introduce guests to its tidepools) and beach butlers (to adhere to its guests’ on-the-sand needs).
Of additional appeal is more than 22,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting space, including a 7,500-sf Grand Ballroom (divisible by three), 3,200-sf Gallery Ballroom (divisible by two), three additional meeting rooms and outdoor meeting space featuring four event lawns.
It is the service, however, that particularly pleases this planner. “I rate all aspects of a property from the towel hanging in the bathroom to the carpet.” She continues that what especially differentiates this property from others is the overall service — everyone from the bell staff to housekeeping to registration to the conference service manager.
“The guests absolutely love Montage Laguna Beach, and if I could have the event there every year, the attendees would go out of their way to attend.”
— Janice E. Quals
“Most attendees are top executives from large organizations who go to numerous events each year, but they make it a point to attend our event when it is held at Montage. I’ve already booked for 2019,” Quals concludes.
Monarch Beach Resort, another premier Orange County property, is a AAA Five Diamond beachfront resort along the coast of Dana Point. Having completed a $40 million transformation in 2016 — a refresh of its 400 guest rooms and an exclusive spa partnership with Miraval — the resort offers more than 30,000 sf of indoor event space, 60,000 sf of expansive outdoor space and such activities as standup paddleboard and surf lessons with the resort’s Surf Hosts and exclusive marine adventures through the Ocean Institute. In spring 2018, James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina opened his internationally recognized steakhouse, Bourbon Steak, replacing Stonehill Tavern.
Jeremy Vannatta, managing director, marketing and communications, PayneWest Insurance, also selected Southern California for his company’s annual March or April get-together. He explains the choice of San Diego’s Paradise Point Resort & Spa as the site of his company’s three-day sales incentive, Network Builder, for the company’s top sales producers, managers and insurance carrier partners.
“Our marketing team conducts an extensive site selection process to determine the best location,” says Vannatta. The criterion: a comfortable and relaxing venue for colleagues and carrier partners that also meets the needs of the annual event’s unique space requirements. They additionally look for a warm weather locale — giving attendees a reprieve from the Pacific Northwest’s cooler months — says the planner of his group representing 30-plus locations in Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.
It was after sharing the group’s needs and receiving subsequent proposals that Paradise Point quickly rose to the top of the list of potential sites. “Located on San Diego’s Mission Bay, it felt like a great cross between Hawaii and California,” explains Vannatta. Activities such as beach parties, golf and SeaWorld (conveniently located across from the resort on Mission Bay) helped seal the deal.
Originally developed in 1962 by movie producer Jack Skirball, who wearied of constructing film sets only to witness their demolition at the movie’s completion, built Paradise Point to be “a permanent fantasy-island setting as an escape for families and Hollywood executives.”
This 44-acre island hotel, located mere minutes from downtown San Diego and the airport, serves up 462 California bungalow-style guest rooms, more than 80,000 sf of indoor/outdoor event space (making it the largest conference hotel on Mission Bay) and one mile of beach — all complemented by a lagoon, gardens and the bay. Additional beach-style amenities include the Paradise Surf Academy, beach cruiser, quadricycle surrey and longboard skateboard rentals; 14 beach bonfire pits; four championship tennis courts; and an NBA-size basketball court.
The final evaluation says it all. “As event planners, you usually have a strong feeling if the event will be a success during its planning and execution — but the proof is always with the comments you hear afterward. And boy did we hear amazing feedback,” exclaims Vannatta. Bottom line:
“We’re already in planning stages to make sure Paradise Point is back in our rotation of exclusive properties that meet our high standards.”
— Jeremy Vannatta
Another beach venue, a different coast, describes Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa, set in Ponte Vedra Beach on Northeast Florida’s Atlantic coast. Its recent $25 million refresh is noticeable throughout the resort — the hotel façade, the Cascades Event Lawn, SurfStream wave simulator and the hotel’s 514 rooms (each room has an additional 30 sf), as well as new bedding, linens, carpet, lighting and bathrooms. There are 65 acres of Audubon-rated grounds, more than 61,000 sf of indoor and outdoor social event space, a full-service spa, privileged access to TPC Sawgrass (home of PGA Tour’s Stadium Course) and teambuilding opportunities such as Amazing Taste (akin to TV’s “Amazing Race,” this is a culinary scavenger hunt) and Boardroom (think “Apprentice”).
Jay Marsella, director of sales and marketing for Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa says, “Outdoor venues continue to be a trend at a resort. However, customers are looking for the ‘wow’ factor when it comes to not only their receptions and dinners, but also their meeting sets, staging and production.”
Continuing along both Florida coasts are numerous beach resorts that beckon planners and attendees alike.
Located on the sunshine state’s Gulf Coast in the city of Hollywood is The Diplomat Beach Resort. With more than 200,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space, it is Florida’s largest convention hotel south of Orlando. The Diplomat’s $100 million restoration and transformation, includes 1,000-rooms and offers more than 209,000 sf of interior function and meeting space, 10 new culinary concepts (including chef Michael Schulson’s Japanese-inspired Monkitail and Geoffrey Zakarian’s coastal American eatery, Point Royal), a kosher kitchen and catering menu, a Blue Wave-certified beach and a private marina located on its Intracoastal waterway.
Representing one of the industry’s newest luxury beach properties, Wyndham Grand Clearwater Beach celebrates the location’s surf, sand and sunsets. Located between the Gulf of Mexico and Clearwater Bay, this 343-room resort gives the meetings world more than 22,000 sf of event space and a luxurious 5,700-sf spa, The Pallavi Luxury Spa. With a guiding principle derived from its name Pallavi, meaning “new leaf,” treatments include a selection of pamperfests such as poultice massage — a massage therapy based on healing practices of India and tailor-made for those suffering from jet lag and muscle pain.
Self-described as “an intimate ocean retreat offering a new-fashioned luxury Palm Beach experience that invokes the relaxed glamour of America’s original resort destination,” Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa represents everything luxury. Its exclusive perks include 309 Jonathan Adler-designed guest rooms, the Forbes Five Star Eau Spa, two oceanfront swimming pools (including an adults-only tranquility pool), aquatic sports such as boating and fishing and more than 30,000 sf of indoor and outdoor meeting and event space (accommodating groups from 10 to 1,000).
Tony Fitzjohn, director of group sales at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Ponte Vedra Beach, says groups typically lean toward beach destinations for incentives. His best tip for planners booking a beachfront property is to research the destination’s high and low seasons to find the best time to book the venue. Planners also should plan for alternative outdoor group activities in the case of not-so-optimum weather. His backup suggestions: yoga workshops, cooking classes and spa visits.
Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s meeting break activities — structured to encourage team fraternization and designed to showcase its setting — include Beach Olympics and Amazing Race. Among its meeting break culinary treats are golf ball cupcake pops, Arnold Palmer popsicles, chocolate-covered orange wheels and key lime square tarts.
The recent opening of the Bahamas’ 1,800-room Grand Hyatt Baha Mar provides a luxury island option. Perks include direct beach access to the resort’s Beach Sanctuary, a variety of water sports, seven pools, more than 20 food and dining outlets from a conch shack to a Flamingo Deck overlooking the pink flamingo habitat; a 30,000-sf ESPA spa (the Caribbean’s first and only); the Caribbean’s largest casino (100,000 sf); a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course Royal Blue; and a 200,000-sf convention center — all accented with a Bahamian flair.
The 600-room Coral at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas, is the product of a $20 million transformation of the former Coral Towers and represents the most centrally located of the five Atlantis hotels, with proximity to the Atlantis Conference Center, casino and Marina Village. As the region’s culinary capital, the Atlantis Collection includes such notables as chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Todd English.
Fitzjohn offers practical advice: “If you are conducting a meeting at a beach venue, be sure to give your guests the time to enjoy the spectacular amenity. A simple early morning walk on the beach is a perfect way for your attendees to clear their minds to be ready for a day of meetings.” I&FMM